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On the 14th of May this year the Queen gave royal ascension to the Immigration Bill. This bill had been launched on October 9th 2013 and sponsored by the Home Secretary Theresa May. It outlined the Coalition government’s new approach to what it considered to be the key problems of the immigration sector. Hopefully this post will highlight some of the history, contents and responses to the bill, which given its cross-societal nature, have been widespread and largely in opposition.
In overview, the bill deals with several large areas:
1) The extension of fingerprint and biometric controls, passport controls, and embarkation orders in order to better and more quickly identify illegal migrants. Increase powers to inquire into partnership and marriage statuses to prevent sham marriages.
2) Cut the number of decisions on which a migrant can appeal against asylum refusal and deportation from 17 down to 4. Create a policy of ‘deport first and appeal later’ in cases where no clear threat to life exists. Advance government pressure to reduce the use of Article 8 (EHR Right to Family Life) in court hearings. Increase restrictions on multiple requests for bail from immigration detainees.
3) Restrict access to illegal migrants in a number of areas. Firstly require landlords to check immigration status on prospective and existing tenants. Secondly enforcing a payment on those subject to immigration controls for short term stay visas or longer than 6 months (asylum seekers excluded) for use of the NHS. Others include requiring bank workers and driver licensing authorities to check applicants against immigration databases.
4) Increasing regulation over the immigration advice sector and enforcing payment of unpaid civil penalties.
A number of political factors and myths have led up to this bill being passed. As part of the general attack on the welfare state by the coalition, there has also been a policy of using immigration as the ‘sharp end of the wedge’. Nowhere more clearly has this been demonstrated than the increasing attacks on so-called ‘welfare tourism‘, in particular health tourism. The bill also plays into general public fears about abuse of human rights legislation to overstay in the UK, hence the attacks on Section 8 and other rights designed to protect family life. But far and away the bill is aimed at, in Theresa May’s own words, ‘creating a hostile environment for illegal immigrants‘, which is just what is aimed at with the removal of access to public services and private rented accommodation.
However, the reality on the ground does not bear out to these concerns. In particular the shocking lack of evidence for the claim that EU migrants are costing the NHS and the welfare state a fortune. After some particularly unpleasant comments by the Coalition aimed at European migrants, the European Commission demanded proof that welfare tourism was costing what Theresa May described as an ‘unacceptable burden’. What emerged from a leaked document was that in fact the UK does not keep figures on EU migrants who access welfare benefits, and so were unable to tell the Commission even how many migrants had rightfully accessed benefits, let alone fraudulently. In an immortal line the document stated ‘we consider that these questions place too much emphasis on quantitative evidence’. In other words, because some voter saw lots of Spanish people in an A+E once it must be the case that there is abuse, don’t let pesky evidence get in the way. In fact, figures for the cost to the NHS from migrants reveal that, at a generous estimate, migrants cost 12 million pounds a year. In perspective, this is 0.06% of the amount the NHS is being required to slash, or 0.011% of the total overall budget. So much for evidence based policy.
The major problem that this bill faces is the totally unethical and unworkable proposal that private landlords should become an arm of the immigration service, on pain of a £3000 fine. There has been an outcry from various organisations ranging from landlord advocacy groups, to homeless charities. If the bill goes through, the future of the rental sector will become thus: when someone applies for accomodation or is requested a property in the private sector through a Local Authority (LA), they will become subject to an immigration control. Every person regardless of skin colour or accent is in theory supposed to be checked. But overwhelmingly the concern is, even from landlords, a default to only accepting a UK passport or worse, a white UK passport. Given that there are in theory over 200 types of European ID documents, it’s not a surprise that landlords aren’t happy. In fact there is an endless list of ways in which this bill could go wrong, including – the changing nature of immigration statuses, surcharge by letting agents for immigration checks, clash between s.193 homelessness duty from an LA and immigration status and people fleeing violence or domestic abuse who may not have access to their documents. Overall this is an ill thought out piece of legislation, but the pilot schemes will be rolled out on the 1st of December in various cities. Despite this attempt to drive out illegal migrants, all this bill will do is make life harder for ordinary people, create discrimination where there was none and force illegals into the hands of criminal landlords. A recipe for housing exploitation and homelessness is to be expected.
To prevent this becoming an excessive length piece, there will be a follow up to cover the responses and opposition to the bill. For further information on the contents of the bill click here. A
Hidden among the stories of the past few months, the crisis in Iraq, conflict in Ukraine and the Ebola outbreak in West Africa, there have been the occasional underplayed article involving boat loads of migrants drowning in the Mediterranean. By and large these stories refer to migrants attempting to sail from Libya to either Italy or Malta and suffering terrible consequences, drownings from capsized boats, dehydration, vessels rammed and tipped over, people being forcibly returned to the Libyan authorities. So what exactly is going on here? Who are the principal actors? And who are the people who seem to risk everything to get to Europe?
The route from Libya to Europe is referred to as ‘the Central Route’ by Frontex, the European Union’s central organisation responsible for intelligence and joint operations on the borders of the member states. Data collected by Frontex since 2008 reveals a striking picture of the results of numerous deals and interventions by players as diverse as NATO, Italy, the EU Commission and Libya’s National Transition Council. Libya and the Central Route are considered a major source of illegal migration into the EU. Since 2008 Libya has seen Gadaffi be overthrown and deposed by a revolution which has desecended into a civil war – with militias taking over responsibility for various government departments, including immigration and asylum. With neighbours caught in internal repressions and conflicts (Eritrea, Somalia, South Sudan), and an increasingly xenophobic EU demanding the prevention of migrants using boats to cross the Mediterranean, Libya has become a hell on earth for refugees.
Back in 2007/8, the Central Route saw a sharp rise in the number of illegal crossings. Frontex figures reveal that in 2008, approximately 40,000 migrants were recorded making the crossing. Such numbers prompted the Italian government to push for a bilateral agreement with Libya and Colonel Gadaffi, in an attempt to slow the movements. This agreement saw Libya using highly repressive actions to stop migrants leaving in boats, and Italy paid for a new militaristic infrastructure to identify, detain and deport migrants attempting to cross into Italy. Frontex figures show the success of this agreement, with 11,000 making the journey in 2009 and only 4,500 recorded in 2010.
However, with the advent of the Arab Spring and the rebellion against Gadaffi in 2011, a space was opened up for migrants escaping the Horn of Africa and North African regimes such as Tunisia to cross the Mediterranean. With internal conflict and the forcible expulsion of sub-Saharan Africans the figures show that a staggering 64,300 people crossed that year. With the border regime in Libya in turmoil and increasing numbers making the crossing Italy again responded. In 2012 the National Transition Council (NTC) in Libya made a deal with Italy to prevent boats leaving. It also allowed the Italian coastguard and Navy to patrol the waters, push back any identified vessels and hand them over to the NTC authorities. This action was a flagrant breach of several acts to protect human rights, including the EU Human Rights act and the Geneva Convention on Refugees. An EU judge ruled that any vessels intercepted by Italian authorities were under the protection of the Italian government and as such deserved their rights as potential asylum seekers. Italy also signed an agreement with Tunisia to return the majority of the Tunisian migrants. Even so, these illegal actions were highly effective, and figures for recorded crossings dropped to 15,900 in 2012. Also implicated in these illegal actions were NATO warships and vessels. Goldmiths University produced a report using sophisticated oceanography technology and claimed that NATO vessels had spotted several distressed boats of migrants and refused to help, and in some cases pushed them back. Survivors reported NATO helicopters and boats observing them for hours without offering assistance.
In the past year Libya has seen a tremendous upsurge in violence and internal repression. Refugees and migrants are treated with an appalling lack of respect. Human Rights Watch and Amnesty have made several reports outlining the degrading and brutal treatment of detainees in Libyan detention facilities. Torture, sexual assaults, whippings, refusal of medical treatment, lack of access to legal infrastructure and other violations have been outlined here and here. Libya remains a nexus for migration, due to its geographical location and existing trafficking networks. In 2013 the greatest upsurge of demographics were in the Syrian refugee population which increased by 8,699% from the previous year to 9,591 recorded crossings. Also highly visible were Eritrean and Somali populations. With no end to the militia based conflict inside the country, refugees remain trapped between the need to escape their home countries, earn some money working in Libya and then attempting to leave via a boat.
Despite the whipping up of anti-immigrant sentiment in the UK, which portrays all asylum seekers and refugees as opportunistic parasites coming to claim hard working cash from British people, the people crossing the Mediterranean come from a few specific countries. By and large the Eritran, Somali and Syrian populations are currently highly represented. This is not surprising given that Somalia is a failed state gripped by warfare, Syria is in the midst of an endless civil war, and Eritrea may qualify as one the most brutal dictatorships in the world (Eritrea is such a closed regime even the Minister for Information fled the country in 2013 as a refugee!). It makes a mockery of the aspersion that these people know the ins and outs of the UK benefit system.
The situation that these refugees find themselves in, crossing in small wooden boats – overcrowded and under-stocked with fuel, food and water, is not a natural or inevitable one. It is one of design, created by specific pieces of legislation. The implementation of lethal border regimes forces this journey on people and so must bear the responsibility of the deaths, which are fast becoming a daily occurrence. It’s time we recognised that the consequences of Europe’s borders are not statistics, but real human misery and death. Changing this would require political courage and a strong demand from civil society not to tolerate this situation in our name or in the name of our security.
Youtube documentary on the situation
This coming Tuesday 20th January will be the fourth day of action against BMI Airlines. We once again call on all those who oppose the deportation industry and the inhumane treatment of migrants to contact BMI and let them know what you think of their profiteering from this cruel practice.
As the campaign against them gathers pace, it is clear that BMI will be beginning 2009 in a similar way to that of 2008. Last January, the airline were heavily criticised for twice attempting to deport Veneera Aliyeva and her two young children who had been living in Swansea.
Since then, BMI have been involved in Read the rest of this entry »
These were the words of order at the protest outside Campsfield House Immigration Removal Centre (IRC) on Saturday 29th November, the 15th anniversary of its inauguration. Activists from No Borders South Wales joined with over 100 people from London, Birmingham, Coventry, different towns in Oxfordshire, mainland Europe, Turkey, Congo and elsewhere, to stand their ground in solidarity with the detainees held beyond the endless fences, bare empty ground, barbed wire, bars and walls.
We were at Campsfield to shout words of solidarity through the bitter cold air and fences. The speakers included Bill MacKeith from the Campaign to Close Campsfield, Romain Ngouabeu from National Coalition of Anti-Deportation Campaigns (NCADC), local MP Evan Harris as well as former detainees and partners of detainees. The atmosphere was one of enthusiasm, warmed by steaming soup, and energized by lots of music and bright eyed children running around with ‘Stop Detention’ signs.
Particularly heart-breaking was turning our backs and leaving, to the sound of the detainees inside, asking us not to go, asking when we would be back, why we wouldn’t just take the fence down. Why won’t we?
After the protest a meeting was held by Barbwire Britian (network to end migrant detention), in a nearby hall, where Steve Symonds, Legal Officer of the Immigration Law Practitioners’ Association (ILPA), gave a special briefing on the Borders, Immigration and Citizenship Bill.
A Legacy of Tragedy
Over the past 15 years, Campsfield has been the topic and stage of much criticism, from activists as well as ‘authority’ figures, various violent incidents (aka ‘disturbances’), hunger strikes and a suicide. It opened as an immigration detention centre in 1993; having been originally built as a military barrack and subsequently serving as a hospital and a detention centre for young people it now holds 216 male inmates indefinitely without trial or charge, simply for exercise their right under the Geneva Convention to claim asylum in Britain – daring to live in a different place to where they were born.
On June 27 2005, an 18 year old Turkish Kurd hung himself after being detained at Campsfield for 4 months, 9 days and a few hours – nonetheless, the report after his death stated that the average length of stay in detention at Campsfield was of 14 to 15 days. The same report stated that
“detention reviews were not sufficiently rigorous … a decision whether or not to continue to detain [cannot] properly be made on the basis of papers alone”
and that the chair of the IMB admitted Campsfield’s
“staff could sometimes be a bit ‘sharp’ with detainees”
using what they referred to as a “muscular approach”. Among various other recommendations, the Ombudsman made a case against prolonged detention, saying that
“there is much circumstantial evidence that indefinite detention can lead to a deterioration in either mental or physical health or both ” .
Regardless, in the report from the unannounced inspection of Campsfield House this year, HM Chief Inspector of Prisons Anne Owers said that the average length of detention periods had
“increased significantly since [their] last visit, from 14 to 46 days”
In August this year, 13 Iraqi detainees went on a hunger strike, later to be joined by 50 others of various different nationalities. Earlier, in June, fires were started in protest inside the centre and a team of 50 prison officers, a fire engine, a helicopter and dog handlers called on to ‘restore order and ensure no one escaped’. Let us recall that seeking asylum is a human right and that none of these incarcerated people are criminals.
Between 4.30 and 6pm last night a number of us joined around 20 other people for a vigil at the top of Queen Street in the centre of Cardiff. The vigil was organised by the Anti Poverty Network Cymru and aimed to raise awareness and protest against refugee destitution. The event caught the attention of many passers-by who stopped to read the messages and find out what was going on. The reaction was very positive and people were truly shocked at the way that the government treats refugees and its use of destitution as a means of attempting to starve people out of the country.
The protest also provided a much needed opportunity for people to network with other groups who shared similar feelings about the terrible treatment of migrants by the government. With the prospect of even more draconian legislation in the form of the draft Borders, Immigration and Citizenship Bill and the further dehumanisation of migrants that this Bill, if implemented, will bring, it is even more paramount that we begin to work together and build a more coherent movement to fight against this regime.
We need to refute the artificial divisions imposed between different categories of migrants by the government and media. Between those that deserve (refugees) and those that don’t (‘bogus asylum seekers’ or ‘illegal immigrants’). It is only through standing in solidarity with all migrants, regardless of why they have come, that we will be able to build a truly powerful movement capable of bring about lasting and significant social change. Let’s hope some of the conversations had last night were only the beginning. Here’s to a stronger, more united fight for equality and freedom of movement for all!